From that title you can probably already get an idea of what my stance is on the recent news that Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice will be receiving an R-rated cut for its blu-ray release. Like many vocal fans on the internet, the very idea of an R-rated movie featuring Batman and/or Superman seems ridiculous to me. While characters like, say, Deadpool (whose mega-successful R-rated movie doubtlessly led to this planned cut even being a possibility) make sense with an R-rating, a Superman or Batman film being violent, sexual or cuss-ridden enough to warrant an R feels unmistakably like an appeal to the now-middle-aged fanbase who’ve made the current comic book movie boom possible. Adult comic book fans want their superhero movies to be something they won’t be embarrased to be seen watching, they (I suppose I should say we) want comic book movies that feel mature and like more than just kiddie entertainment. The right way to do that is to tell intelligent stories with well-rounded characters and interesting subtext and themes. The wrong way to do that is to take characters that have been functioning perfectly fine under the constraints of what would amount to a G to PG-13 rating for literal decades and inject enough violence and mature content to make them feel “adult”. Trust me, comic books tried this to appeal to adult audiences before. We called it “the 90s” and we never speak of it.
The thing that many defenders of the R-cut of BvS are pointing out is that this will be an alternate version of the film, and that the version that will be hitting theaters later this month will be kid-safe, for the most part. And this is true, absolutely. No one is stopping kids from seeing Batman vs Superman and no one is trying to make the film an entirely ‘adults only’ affair. That would be insane, and lose Warner Bros and DC a monumental chunk of their audience. But what galls a lot of fans, myself included, is the very idea that an R-rated cut of Batman vs Superman apparently needs to exist. That there’s a demand for a Superman movie that needs to be kept away from children. Put frankly, if you need to see a Superman (and to a lesser extent a Batman) story that includes graphic violence, sexuality or language…..maybe a Superman story isn’t what you actually want to see.
It ultimately comes, I think, from this continual need for our genre fiction to chase after a kind of perceived ‘cultural legitimacy’. We want our genre fiction to be mature and appreciable as genuine cultural artifacts rather than meaningless pop, but in our rush to make things like comic book superheroes into something “respectable”, we’re all too often getting too far estranged from what they meant to us in the first place.
Anyway, to get to what actually brought us here, humor site Cracked released a video this weekend with a satirical look at what an R-rated version of Dawn of Justice might look like. It’s an exaggeration, obviously, but one that pointedly asks the question: is this really what we want? Are we really ok with moving towards a Batman movie with graphic violence, cussing and the occasional bit of nudity? Adult fans want maturity from their superhero fare, but is adding material that bars children from watching the answer? This last question is especially important, given that while Deadpool is and generally always has been a character aimed at adults, Batman and Superman do not, and that’s part of their importance.
Superman, and characters like him, should be inter-generational by nature, something that brings parents and children together by presenting a shared space for enjoyment. Creating a line in the sand between the “grownups” version of a film like this and the one you can show your kids stops it from achieving the success of Star Wars, because the version of Star Wars you watch with your kids is the exact same one you talk about with your nerdy co-workers the next day. Everyone loves Star Wars. But if the version of BvS you take your kid to and the one you excitedly talk about with your friends is a different film, that’s not a shared experience. That’s not a bonding experience. Franchises like this should be about bringing people together. By subdividing it with varied ratings, you’re doing the exact opposite. Do we want a future where parents set their kids down in the rumpus room with the kid-approved version of a superhero film, then go upstairs to watch the adult version? The precedent created by this R rated cut threatens to take away the strength of Superman, Batman and others to bring generations of fans together through shared experience. That is NOT a loss we should take lightly.
Check out the video from Cracked below and let us know what you think. Is an R cut of Dawn of Justice harmless? Or could this be the beginning of a bad turn for superhero movies?